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The Relevance of Giants – 2. O Sensei (Morihei Ueshiba)

On most every occasion when I’m speaking in public – at conferences, workshops, and the like – I tend to mention one or more of my “Giants” of Rightshifting. Men and women who, through their lives and work have contributed significantly to my understanding of work, and in particular to my understanding of effective collaborative knowledge work.

Many folks express interest in these Giants, but I do wonder if they appreciate the relevance of the ideas and experiences of these Giants to their own daily lives at work.

I mean, what relevance does, say, O Sensei have to developers, testers, operations staff and the like? Which aspects of any of these Giants’ work could be useful or helpful or simply comforting to these folks?

In this occasional series of posts I’ll be exploring some of the Giants’ relevance to folks other than theorists, managers, consultants and the like. I’ll be sharing some insights into their work, and specifically, the likely relevance.

With these posts I hope to pique your curiosity just a little. Let’s continue, with this second post in the series, with O Sensei.

O Sensei

Morihei Ueshiba

(December 14, 1883 – April 26, 1969)  (See also: Wikipedia entry)

I’m not going to dwell on his early life and experiences in the Japanese Army, his adventures in Mongolia, nor his experiences in Manchuria and Japan during the time of World War 2.

Aikido

I suggest the primary relevance of O Sensei to most folks working in the field of software development (and production operations) is Aikido – the martial art he developed. Excepting it’s less a martial art, and more a philosophy for life, and for harmonising with others.

Unlike many other martial arts, Aikido is focussed on caring for others, as emphasised by the translation of the three kanji: ai-ki-do as the Way of Unifying Spirit or the Way of Spiritual Harmony. O Sensei envisioned Aikido as an expression of his personal philosophy of universal peace and reconciliation. O Sensei’s goal was to create an art that practitioners could use to defend themselves while also protecting their attacker from injury.

Blending“, one of the core techniques of Aikido, invites us to look at conflicts from the perspectives of the other person – or people – involved. For me, this has a direct connection with empathy – as promoted by e.g. Marshall Rosenberg and others of the nonviolent community.

“Life is growth. If we stop growing, technically and spiritually, we are as good as dead.”

~ Morihei Ueshiba

Where’s the Relevance?

How do we make it more likely that we’re all spending our time on stuff that matters? How do we go about attending to folks’ real needs? I find blending a great asset in identifying with the needs of others. As I blend, I see their perspective, and their needs, more clearly. And in turn, they can feel more listened-to. And choose to reveal other things, crucial things, that means we get to understand more about what matters to us all. With this knowledge – and goodwill – we have a better chance of focusing on what matters, and of reducing the chance of wasting some or all of our time on the inconsequential, on detours, and on dead ends.

Practical Investigation

You might like to join an Aikido dojo, to practice the physical forms of the techniques. And to discuss the philosophy with like-minded people wha have already started the journey. Beware, though, of those dojos and sensei that emphasise the physical forms at the expense of Aikido philosophy.

– Bob

Further Reading

The Life We Are Given ~ Michael Murphy, George Leonard
The Way of Aikido ~ George Leonard
It’s A Lot Like Dancing ~ Terry Dobson

What is Nonviolence?

“Nonviolence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man.”

~ Mahatma Gandhi

A whole passle of folks expressed surprise, and even consternation – at my post What Is Violence?

I guess it’s past time to look at the other side of the coin, nonviolence.

“Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon. Indeed, it is a weapon unique in history, which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it.”

~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

Ahisma

The roots of nonviolence as a philosophy go back to at least 1000BC with the Sanskrit word and idea of Ahisma – i.e. not harming, or nonviolence. Ahisma has become a spiritual doctrine shared today by Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.

Aikido

More recently, O Sensei placed nonviolence at the heart of Aikido.

Proponents

Famous proponents of nonviolence include Leo Tolstoy, Thomas A. Edison, Mohandas K. Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Aung San Suu Kyi, Joan Baez, Cesar Chavez and Nelson Mandela. The therapist Marshall Rosenberg built the practice of Nonviolent Communication on the principles of nonviolence.

Core Themes

Nonviolence proposes that social change, relationships, and other interpersonal interactions flourish best when people choose to refrain from harming others.

For me, a central them of nonviolence is free will. I choose to regard coercion – through e.g. fear, obligation, guilt, duty or shame – as much a form of violence as punching someone in the mouth. I therefore prefer to use invitation (asking) in the place of instruction (telling).

Another common theme is the avoidance of moralistic judgments:

“Moralistic judgments are those built on [an ideology] that implies the human beings are very lazy, evil and violent. Therefore the corrective process is penitence. You have to make them hate themselves for what they’ve done, to believe that they deserve to suffer for what they’ve done.”

~ Marshall B. Rosenberg

Neither Passivity Nor Pacifism

Nonviolent advocates and activists reject the equating of nonviolence with e.g. peace, passivity, inaction or pacifism. Inherent in the idea of nonviolence is its use as a tool in protest, resistance, action and even revolution.

From The Heart

Closely associated with nonviolence are concepts such as love, compassion, non-theist spirituality and acting from the heart, out of interest in and concern for “what’s alive in people”.

“Nonviolence, which is the quality of the heart, cannot come by an appeal to the brain.”

~ Mahatma Gandhi

Invitation

Would you be willing to share what nonviolence means to you? And any questions or reservations you might have?

– Bob

Some Homos

What is Man?

“There are depths in Man that go down to the lowest hell, and heights that reach the highest heaven.”

~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

I’ve come across various takes on the question of “What is Man?” These include:

Homo Sapiens

More specifically, Homo Sapiens sapiens. Homo meaning man, and Sapiens meaning wise. I find a certain irony in this name.

Homo Economicus

Man as a species of rational and narrowly self-interested actors who have the ability to make judgments toward their subjectively defined ends. A.k.a. Homo Averiticus. I don’t buy this one at all.

Homo Biologicus

Man as a species shaped by biological processes such as natural and sexual selection.

Homo Narrans

Man as a species of story-tellers (and listeners). A collection of “individuals that develop a group consciousness around a problematic situation and act to solve the problematic situation”.

Yes, we tell and listen to stories. But as a defining characteristic? Hmmm.

Homo Evolutis

Man as a species that is taking control of its own evolution. See this article and related TED talk.

Homo Empathicus

Man as species predicated on empathy. Cf. Theory of Mind.

Homo Becoming

When Heraclitus looked at Nature he saw not stability or permanence, but incessant flux and transformation. This is a perspective in which I find much comfort. Man as a species forever part of Nature, of the Cosmos or wider universe, forever becoming something. Not a human being, but a human becoming.

I also like the implication that everyone is capable of becoming more than they are. A species of Infinite potential. A species with a growth mindset (cf. Dweck).

So What?

Would you be willing to consider how you see Man as a species? And how that colours your world, your relationships and your life?

– Bob

Further Reading

What Is Man? ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
The Empathic Civilisation ~ Jeremy Rifkin (RSAnimate video)
Mindset ~ Carol Dweck

 

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